An experiment in health care born out of the labor and social movements of the pre-World War II Pacific Northwest transitioned to a larger, better-resourced future Monday morning at the site on Capitol Hill of its first hospital. Bathed in the blue light of thousands of LED lights, the new signs and a new system of health care were introduced this morning at the 15th Ave campus where Group Health first put the old St. Luke’s Hospital to use before creating its own Capitol Hill facility.
“We are honored to care for even more Washingtonians and their families,” Susan Mullaney, president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington said. “Beginning today, Washingtonians can access Kaiser Permanente’s high-quality care and coverage across the state.”
The $60 billion Kaiser Permanente announced its plans to acquire the Washington cooperative Group Health in December of 2015. Following the long path of member and regulatory approval, the signs — and temporary light shows — went up at facilities including the Capitol Hill campus over the weekend. Kaiser Permanente now serves more than 674,000 members in Washington state. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans, serving more than 11.3 million members, with headquarters in Oakland, California.
As part of the takeover, Kaiser Permanente “will invest $1 billion over the next decade to expand and modernize facilities and technology, and to advance patient care and service,” the organization has pledged.
The nation’s health care industry remains in a state of cautious anticipation as the Trump administration cooks up a system to replace the Affordable Care Act. Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard J. Tyson was part of a group of insurance executives who met with President Trump in February on Obamacare repeal.
In late 2015, Kaiser Permanente officials said “changes in the care model, and with doctors and care teams won’t occur immediately” and that “other redundancies” following the winnowing of management “may be eliminated” in coming years. In 2015, Group Health’s Capitol Hill campus transitioned from a focus on maternity services after forging a partnership with Swedish. Previously, around 1,700 babies a year took their first breaths of fresh Capitol Hill air at 15th and John.
As of last summer, Group Health employed around 360 primary care providers and 585 specialty physicians in the Puget Sound and Spokane areas. As of 2015, it was the 20th largest employer in the state.
Group Health rose with Capitol Hill at its early center after the acquisition of St. Luke’s Hospital that originally stood at the site of the present-day campus:
The health care visionaries who founded Group Health Cooperative in Seattle in 1945 were activists in the farmers’ grange movement, the union movement, and the consumer cooperative movement. Their inspiration was Lebanese-American physician Dr. Michael Shadid (1882-1966), founder of the nation’s first cooperatively owned and managed hospital (in Oklahoma). Dr. Shadid’s crusade was to overthrow the traditional fee-for-service practice of medicine dominated by solo practitioners, expensive specialists, and private hospitals and clinics. Instead he advocated affordable, prepaid healthcare through the cooperative ownership of hospitals staffed by physicians — practicing as a group — who promoted the new idea of “preventive” medicine. Group Health Cooperative began providing health care after merging in 1946 with the Seattle-based Medical Security Clinic, a physician-owned group practice whose idealistic doctors also believed in preventive care. After years of struggle and despite virulent opposition by the medical establishment, Group Health became one of the nation’s largest consumer-directed health-care organizations.
Portions of the old St. Luke’s building were incorporated into the courtyard of Group Health. CHS wrote about the surprising charms of the Capitol Hill medical facility that also is home to an urgent care center in this essay on the campus’s architecture.
Kaiser Permanente officials chose to mark the new era with a countdown on Capitol Hill in recognition of the campus’s place in Group Health history — as well as its still busy days serving area patients. “The Capitol Hill campus serves the largest volume of members in the Seattle area and was the perfect location for the event this morning,” a Kaiser Permanent representative told CHS.
— Kaiser Permanente WA (@kpwashington) March 6, 2017